Saturday, November 11, 2006

Keeping watch -- H5N1

Crawford Kilian, the most informed and focused of the bird flu bloggers, gives high marks to Vincent Lam and Colin Lee for The Flu Pandemic and You: A Canadian Guide. As he said, this is more than a Canadian guide. "[I]ts content would be useful to almost anyone, anywhere, who can read plain English. It provides links to the Public Health Agency of Canada's pandemic plan, but also to American and international resources." Just reading a bit or two from the review nelps me feel better.

Both Lam and co-author Colin Lee are experienced doctors who were emergency physicians in a Toronto hospital when SARS exploded in the spring of 2003. It was like a dress rehearsal for a flu pandemic, complete with two waves of infections. Lam and Lee, and their colleagues, clearly learned a lot. Some passages in their book describe how they fought SARS, and they're fascinating. As they say, SARS disappeared like a bad dream, but when it ended they took care to remember.

Despite Lam's literary talents, the book isn't inclined toward lush, metaphor-rich symbolic prose. Quite the reverse. Their sentences are clean, clear and instantly understandable.

Without talking down to their readers, Lam and Lee explain technical matters like the reproduction rate of viruses. They calmly discuss how to prepare for pandemic "snow days," when everyone stays home, and even manage a little dry humour: "You will feel very silly if there's a power outage and you can't open your cans because all you have is an electric can opener. You will also feel hungry."

The authors take us into situations we don't want to think about, like being in the same house with family members suffering from influenza, and describe the procedures that will get everyone through with the best chance of survival.

They make reference to N95 face masks ("awkward and probably not needed") and conclude with this reassuring snip...
"Before you picked up this book," they tell us, "you probably had at least a 95% chance of surviving the pandemic, and your odds are probably even better, because that number draws from the worst pandemic of the 20th century, a scenario that may not recur."

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